the benefit of engagement in politics

only love can do that

 

Forget the self and you’ll help others.

Deshan Xuanjian

 

The spiritual benefit of engagement in politics comes from going into rather than away from the imperfection. And if you are diving right into the heart of delusion, naturally this means into the heart of your own delusion. There’s always a chance that such a plunge might increase self-knowledge more than it increases self-righteousness.

The point here is that you have to forget all that spiritual stuff about what a good person you are or intend to be someday, something that is anyway unlikely to be attained. The spirituality in politics might not be visible to others or even to yourself. Down there in the heart of delusion you look like a demon too, just like the rest of us. You’ll have to adapt your fashion sense to having horns and fangs.

This is the force of Bismarck’s famous comment about the art of the possible: in order to bring about any sort of transformation you have to work with what is actually the case, rather than what you might have wished for or pretended — in the world, in others, in yourself.

When I accepted how the world is, I noticed that empathy is part of how it is. It’s not easy to explain; it doesn’t have a reason. Empathy seems to be a basis for spiritual work — for the bodhisattva way. Empathy also doesn’t seem to be entirely personal. We didn’t work for change because we liked each other or the people who might benefit; there was empathy even when people were behaving in ways that I might find painful.

 

John Tarrant

bring me the rhinoceros

 

let us know our aims

Our task

as humans is to find

the few principles that will calm the

infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend

what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable

again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness

a meaning once more to peoples poisoned by

the misery of the century. Naturally, it is

a superhuman task. But superhuman

is the term for tasks we take

a long time to accomplish,

that’s all.

 

Let us

know our aims then,

holding fast to the mind, even if

force puts on a thoughtful or a comfortable

face in order to seduce us. The first thing is not to

despair. Let us not listen too much to those who proclaim

that the world is at an end. Civilizations do not die so easily,

and even if our world were to collapse, it would not have

been the first. It is indeed true that we live in tragic

times. But too many people confuse tragedy with

despair. “Tragedy,” D.H. Lawrence said,

“ought to be a great kick at misery.”

This is a healthy and immediately

applicable thought. There are

many things today

deserving such

a kick.

 

If we are

to save the mind we must

ignore its gloomy virtues and celebrate

its strength and wonder. Our world is poisoned

by its misery, and seems to wallow in it. It has utterly

surrendered to that evil which Nietzsche called

the spirit of heaviness. Let us not add to this.

It is futile to weep over the mind,

it is enough to labor

for it. 

 

But where

are the conquering virtues

of the mind? The same Nietzsche listed

them as mortal enemies to heaviness of the spirit.

For him, they are strength of character, taste, the “world,”

classical happiness, severe pride, the cold frugality of

the wise. More than ever, these virtues are

necessary today, and each of us can

choose the one that suits

him best.

 

Before the

vastness of the undertaking,

let no one forget strength of character.

I don’t mean the theatrical kind on political

platforms, complete with frowns and threatening

gestures. But the kind that through the virtue of its purity

and its sap, stands up to all the winds that blow in

from the sea. Such is the strength of character

that in the winter of the world

will prepare the

fruit.

 

Albert Camus